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'Mystery' senator removes hold on cost-of-living increase for vets

Gerald Herbert/AP File Photo

The Republican hold on a Senate bill that provides a cost-of-living adjustment increase for disabled veterans in 2013 has been dropped. The Veterans Affairs Department warned the bill must be approved quickly in November to ensure payments in January.

In a sharply worded statement Thursday, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, called the hold a “stunning” move she could not comprehend. By the end of the day the hold had been lifted.

Since the Senate did not pass the bill when it adjourned last week, lawmakers must approve it on Nov. 13, the day they return, to avoid payment problems, said Josh Taylor, a VA spokesman.

If Senators fail to sign off on the legislation quickly, then “VA would have to make complex programming changes to the system that could not be accomplished in time to pay the COLA increase on Jan. 1,” Taylor said. “Consequently, the December COLA increase would have to be paid retroactively.”

David Ward, a spokesman for Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, said, “we can pass it [the COLA bill] quickly. It should not take too long,” an indication the bill would be passed on Nov. 13.

The COLA increase covers disability and compensation payments to 3.9 million veterans and their survivors. The House, in its version of the bill passed July 9, would provide a 1.9 percent increase. The Congressional Budget Office on Sept.19 pegged the COLA at 1.3 percent, which would cost $686 million in 2013 and $915 million in subsequent years.

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